France and NATO


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NATO - Q&A - (22 Nov. 2021)

Q: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that if Germany refuses to deploy NATO’s nuclear weapons, they could be transfered to other European countries, including countries in the eastern part of Europe. Do you think that moving the nuclear arsenal closer to Russia’s borders could have (…)

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France’s role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

What is NATO?

A defence Alliance which has guaranteed the security and defence of the Euro-Atlantic area for over 70 years.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created in 1949 by 12 States, including France.

Since its creation, the Alliance’s main responsibility has been collective defence, which is enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty: “an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all” and each will take “such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area”.

To date, Article 5 has been invoked only once, in response to the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001.

NATO is a defensive alliance which takes deterrence and defence measures against any threat and aggression and against any emerging security challenge which could jeopardize the fundamental security of one or several Allies. The 2010 strategic concept recalls that “deterrence, based on an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional capabilities, remains a core element” of NATO’s collective defence. Since NATO was established, none of its Member States have suffered a conventional attack by another State on their own soil.

NATO currently has 30 member countries. Its headquarters is based in Evere in Belgium. Norwegian Jens Stoltenberg has been its Secretary General since 28 March 2014. The current Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) is American General Tod Wolters.

Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States 1949
Greece, Turkey 1952
Federal Republic of Germany 1955
Spain 1982
The German Democratic Republic (German reunification) 1990
Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland 1999
Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia 2004
Albania, Croatia 2009
Montenegro 2017
North Macedonia 2020

France: a reliable, responsible and supportive ally

France is one of the 12 founding members of NATO. It also hosted the first permanent headquarters in Paris in the 1950s and 60s. In 1966, France decided to withdraw from the Alliance’s integrated military command. That decision in no way undermined France’s commitment to the Alliance’s collective defence. As General de Gaulle put it, the aim was to change the form of our Alliance without changing its substance. Following the positive vote of the National Assembly, France officially announced its full participation in NATO military command structures at the Strasbourg / Kehl Summit in April 2009. French personnel returned to the Alliance’s command structures from 2009, split between Allied Command Operations (ACO) and Allied Command Transformation (ACT). Currently, when all structures and agencies are taken into account, France has almost 780 troops seconded to NATO entities. Since 2015, ACT has been commanded by a French Air Force General, with the mission of leading the warfare development of military structures, forces, capabilities and doctrines of the Alliance to enable NATO to meet its level of ambition and fulfil its three essential core tasks.

Since the 1990s, after the end of the Cold War, France has contributed significantly to NATO operations. France thus took part in NATO crisis management operations upon their creation in 1993, in Bosnia under IFOR from 1993 to 2004 and the NATO air campaign in Kosovo in 1999. France then contributed actively to the NATO force in Kosovo, holding KFOR command on three occasions.

France, engaged in Afghanistan from 2001, contributed significantly to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), placed under NATO command in 2003. It also contributed to Operation Unified Protector in Libya in 2011, under UN Security Council Resolution 1973. Since 2018, France has deployed some 380 staff to support the Sea Guardian maritime operation to fight terrorist activities in the Mediterranean. It has also participated in the NATO training mission in Iraq since 2018.

Since 2016, France has contributed to reassurance measures for Baltic States and Poland, launched in response to Russia’s illegal invasion of Crimea in 2014. Every year, France provides an armoured, mechanized combined arms company team of 300 personnel including Leclerc tanks and infantry combat vehicles, integrated over eight months over alternate years in a multinational battalion in Estonia (2017, 2019, 2021, 2022) and Lithuania (2018, 2020). It also provides air policing support to Estonia and participates in the AWACS patrols over Eastern Europe. This strong, consistent commitment is unanimously appreciated and has led to exceptional partnerships with host countries.

France also contributes to NATO’s tailored Forward Presence in the Black Sea with its ship deployments in the Black Sea (two or three per year) and maritime surveillance missions with maritime patrol aircraft.

France is holding the rotating command of NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) in the first half of 2022.

In light of Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine in 2022, France decided to further increase its contribution to reassurance for the Allies most exposed to Russia’s threatening actions. A 500-strong French contingent has therefore been deployed in Romania. Almost 200 troops have also joined the enhanced Forward Presence group in Estonia and 4 Mirage 2000-5 fighter aircraft have been deployed for air policing missions in Poland.

France is one of the few Allies to have a defence instrument that is combat-tested and covers the entire spectrum. National capability priorities will ensure that this defence tool is maintained and updated consistent with the objectives approved within NATO and the European Union.

At the diplomatic and political levels, France also has a key role in fostering a balanced and mutually beneficial transatlantic relationship where Europeans play their full part in security and defence. The European initiatives developed in this field in 2017 (Permanent Structured Cooperation, EU European Defence Fund, European Intervention Initiative and European Peace Facility) fully complement NATO’s action and therefore help Europeans to invest more in their defence and be more effective and competent from a military perspective.

France’s financial contribution

France is the third-largest contributor to NATO’s military and civil budgets (unique allocation key of 10.63%), behind the United States (22.14%) and Germany (14.65%) and ahead of the United Kingdom (9.85%) and Italy (8.41%).

In 2020, France’s defence budget represented 5% of the Alliance’s total defence expenditure. France also respects NATO’s guidelines in terms of defence expenditure (2%) and equipment expenditure (20%).

NATO key dates

1949: the North Atlantic Treaty is signed in Washington on 4 April 1949, creating the North Atlantic Council. In December, the first Strategic Concept is drawn up, setting out the Organization’s strategic guidelines.

1952 and 1957: the Alliance’s second and third strategic concepts are drawn up, focusing on how to manage nuclear deterrence with regard to the USSR in the Cold War.

1966: France leaves the integrated military command. The Nuclear Planning Group (NPG) is created to promote a consultative process on nuclear doctrine within NATO.

1974: Ottawa Declaration signed stating that France and the United Kingdom’s nuclear forces play “a deterrent role of their own contributing to the overall strengthening of the deterrence of the Alliance”.

1991: Fifth Strategic Concept drawn up, encouraging the development of partnerships with former adversaries following the fall of the USSR.

1997: NATO-Russia Founding Act, a major commitment by the Alliance which has “no intention, no plan and no reason to deploy or store nuclear weapons on the territory of new members”.

1999: Allied Force bombing of Serbian targets during the Kosovo War, lasting from 24 March to 10 June 1999. Force then deployed to Kosovo (KFOR) under the UN Security Council mandate, which is still active today.

2001: Article 5 invoked for the first and only time following the attacks of 11 September 2001. In 2003, NATO takes command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, mandated by the UN Security Council. It would become a non-combat mission (Resolute Support – RSM) between 2015 and 2021.

2002: strategic partnership with the EU (European Security and Defence Identity).

2008: Bucharest Summit: NATO “welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO”.

2009: France rejoins the integrated military organization.

2010: Seventh Strategic Concept, in effect until the Madrid Summit of June 2022. The Alliance’s three core tasks are defined: collective defence, crisis management and cooperative security. The Euro-Atlantic area is said to be “at peace” and Russia is presented as “a partner”.

2014: Wales Summit, where Allies commit to dedicating 2% of their GDP to defence expenditure, 20% of which should be allocated to acquiring major equipment, including related research and development.

2016: NATO Summit in Warsaw, where Allies commit to establishing an enhanced Forward Presence in the Baltic States and Poland. This is an ad hoc mechanism, in line with NATO’s non-aggressive, predictable and defensive posture with regard to Russia, in accordance with the 1997 Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation. In addition to bolstering its defence and deterrence posture, NATO keeps the lines of communication open with Russia to avoid risks and increase transparency.

An additional commitment was also made, at the instigation of France, by all of the Allies, to build their national cyber defence capacities. Cyber space was recognized as an operational area, with the precautions desired by France (recognition of international law, posture of restraint).

Finally, the summit highlighted NATO-EU relations with the signature of a joint declaration of the leaders from both organizations.

2018: Brussels Summit, where the NATO Mission Iraq (NMI) – a non-combat advisory and capacity-building mission – is launched. The mission is expanded in February 2021 upon the request of the Iraqi Government.

2019: London meeting commemorating the 70th anniversary of NATO, on 3 and 4 December 2019. At the initiative of France and Germany, the London meeting enabled the Heads of State and Government to launch a process of reflection on the Alliance’s future, through an independent group of experts (including former French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hubert Védrine), which drew up a report containing 148 proposals to strengthen the Alliance in an ever more uncertain strategic context and to bolster its cohesion and unity. One of these proposals was to update the 2010 Strategic Concept.

2021: NATO Brussels Summit of 14 June. This Summit was held during a major international sequence on the occasion of US President Joe Biden’s first trip to Europe, which included the G7 Summit in the UK on 13 June 2021, the EU-US Summit on 15 June 2021 and the first meeting between the new US President and his Russian counterpart on 16 June 2021. The Heads of State and Government celebrated the importance of the transatlantic relationship and reaffirmed the values, principles and rules of the Alliance.

The Secretary General prepared a report entitled “NATO 2030”, which was adopted by the Heads of State and Government. It enshrined the principle of overhauling the NATO Strategic Concept and set out the next stages in the process.

The Brussels Summit also highlighted the greater efforts made by the Allies for their defence and the synergy between efforts to deepen European defence and to strengthen the Alliance.

The Summit also recalled the Alliance’s nuclear dimension and the importance of striving for strategic stability through enhanced arms control dialogue at NATO.

Lastly, the Allies agreed on the need to adapt to new security challenges. With this in mind, the Heads of State and Government endorsed a Strengthened Resilience Commitment, a Climate Change and Security Action Plan and a new Comprehensive Cyber Defence Policy.

June 2022: Madrid Summit, adoption of a new Strategic Concept.

Updated: March 2022